Mike Pimlott – Red Tractor Mushroom Grower
Believe it or not, mushrooms aren’t grown in the dark.
It’s one of the myths surrounding how this humble fungi is produced.
Mike Pimlott knows a thing or two about it. At G’s Mushroom Farm in Littleport, Cambridgeshire, he is responsible for growing 160 tonnes of white mushrooms for Tesco every week.
A common misconception is that mushrooms are grown outside, but Mike explains commercial mushrooms are all grown indoors in a controlled environment that encourages rapid growth.
“When we get visitors to the farm they think the mushrooms are grown outside in fields but they’re not. We also get the age-old question ‘do they have to grow in the dark?’ which is again not true, and they’re not affected by false lights. It’s all about creating the perfect environment.”
The mushrooms are grown off a peat-based compost made of wheat straw, chicken litter and water. It takes just 17 days from the day the spore – the seed of a mushroom – is mixed with the compost to when they are ready to harvest.
Mike said: “It’s a very fast moving industry, it’s not like growing a crop out in the field where you’ve got one season per year, we’ve got a different season every week.”
In the early stages the mushroom’s environment needs to be warm and humid, with 99% relative humidity and high carbon dioxide levels. After five days, the environment is changed.
“We drop the temperature, relative humidity and carbon dioxide levels very sharply, and that shocks the mold. It feels threatened that it’s going to die so its natural instinct is to reproduce.”
A selective harvesting process is in place where pickers select the biggest and best mushrooms to create space for the smaller ones to grow. The mushrooms are sent off to the pack house where they are chilled, wrapped, labeled, date coded and sent to the retailer.
Around 70% of what the pickers harvest in a day will be delivered to the customer that evening and be on the shelf for the consumer the next morning.
“Our site gets audited every year by Red Tractor Assurance. To be part of the scheme we have to have full traceability of our product, so not only tracing back to where we’ve harvested from, but back to where the wheat straw came from that the compost is made out of.
“I see Red Tractor as a badge of quality. It’s promoting good farming practices and high standards. Consumers can see that badge on the label and buy something with confidence that they’re buying a safe product that’s been produced in a way that’s minimising the impact on the environment.”
You can support Red Tractor farmers by looking for the logo on food packaging next time you go shopping.